By Leisa Zigman
(KSDK) - It's been three weeks since Charles "Cookie" Thornton walked into a Kirkwood City Council meeting and gunned down two police officers and three city officials.
All physical signs of the rampage have been removed. Kirkwood leaders will re-dedicate the Council Chambers Saturday. Still, troubling questions remain. Perhaps they always will.
But the I-Team has obtained public records that shine a light on one central issue.
It's been reported that Thornton felt city officials were harassing him and unfairly issuing tickets. We received tips that the city fined Thornton for blades of grass being an inch too long. Others claimed he received 20 tickets a day.
To see if that perception was accurate we examined all of Kirkwood's public records relating to Thornton.
The I-team found citations dating back to 1996.
In the past 12 years the City of Kirkwood issued 79 citations to Thornton.
Most dealt with violations regarding his business, CookCo Construction. The city cited Thornton for improperly operating that business out of his Meacham Park home.
The tickets ranged from illegally parking construction equipment in a residential area to failing to remove garbage.
In 1996, the city issued four citations. In 1997 it was six citations. In 1998 Thornton received only one citation and in 1999 he received two.
In that four year period, Thornton paid about 1000 dollars in fines. But in the years 2000 and 2001, the city issued 59 citations to Thornton.
City Attorney John Hessel said, "Our goal has been not to assess fines because that is taking money away from good people."
Hessel explained the city just wanted Thornton to comply with standard codes and ordinances. Hessel also said some of Thornton's neighbors had formally complained about his illegally parked construction trucks and the piles of junk in his yard.
Hessel said, "The city didn't just open up a flood gate of tickets for Thornton in 2000 and 2001. He said, first there were verbal warnings, then written warnings, then conversations, and still, he said, Thornton ignored the cities ordinances."
Hessel explained, "We were hopeful by the sheer volume of the tickets, he would get the point he needs to stop and needs to comply."
In May, 2001, a St. Louis County Circuit Court Judge found Thornton guilty of every violation filed. She fined him more than 11,000 dollars. They were fines Thornton never paid.
The following month, the tickets increased.
On June 22, 2001 Ken Yost, the Director of Public Works, one of five people Thornton killed, personally wrote four tickets.
Just before 2p.m., June 23, Yost and a police officer return to Thornton's property. A police report states Thornton was yelling the city was harassing him and the city was preventing him from working.
The report states Thornton threw a bale of hay, hitting Yost on the head and shoulders. The police officer charged Thornton with assault. Ten minutes later, records show, Yost wrote four additional citations. Four days later, Thornton received eight more tickets.
Hessel explained, "We decided we were wasting our time, the city's time, and the city's resources. We weren't accomplishing our goal."
According to Hessel a decision was made to halt all tickets.
Hessel said, "We stopped. We turned a blind eye to many of the things Cookie Thornton was doing. Actually we turned a blind eye to all the things Cookie Thornton was doing."
Public records show, in 2003, 2004, and 2005, Kirkwood did not issue one ticket to Thornton.
Since 2002, he received a total of six citations.
Hessel said, “We didn’t want to waste our time or our energy on something not productive. We did let it go. Cookie Thornton was the one who couldn’t let it go.”
Franklin McCallie is the former principal of Kirkwood High School and a long time friend of Thornton's.
"He had to have a public apology and it didn't matter what they did about not doing the tickets. If he didn't get a public apology, he hadn't been healed," McCallie said.
McCallie described himself as an advocate for Thornton. He spent four months reviewing many of the tickets and eventually told Thornton he was wrong.
"Cookie wouldn't accept that. By this time in Cookie's mind he was being done in," he said.
McCallie was one of many of Thornton’s friends to try to help broker a peace between Thornton and the City Council.
While the city stopped issuing tickets, Hessel said, Thornton filed five lawsuits claiming Kirkwood violated his First Amendment rights and was maliciously prosecuting him.
Thornton protested outside Hessel's office and home and he became more disruptive at council meetings.
One week before Thornton burst into city hall,
A federal judge threw out his final case. By this time McCallie said, Thornton was broke, he lost his business and both of his homes were mortgaged.
McCallie said, "Failure should never have been an option for us. You can't let a friend, get to this point."
Some believe Thornton was the target of an unrelenting barrage of tickets. Does the public record support that?
Hessel said, "Ken Yost was not harassing Cookie Thornton and his life and legacy deserves more then some impression he was being harassed.
Mayor Swoboda deserves more than that. Connie Karr, Mike Lynch deserve more than that, And all of us who are alive today deserve more than that because it's not true."
Harriet Patton is the President of the Meacham Park Neighborhood Association. She said, “The public deserves to hear the information that is accurate.”
Patton wouldn't comment about Thornton's perception of harassment but she did offer historical perspective.
She said, "Many residents of Meacham Park felt that same concept, the disrespect, disregard, for whatever reason, we experienced that over a long period of time."
Patton believes the long contentious history between Meacham Park Residents and the City Council may be shifting and she says she is hopeful.
Patton said, "More blacks and whites are getting together. Like the saying goes, 'How do you take down an elephant? One bite at a time.”
I tried to talk to Thornton's wife in Florida and his family in Kirkwood but no one responded.
I also spoke to Kirkwood ministers, and citizens and most all said they had no idea the city only issued six citations since 2002.
We are posting all of the citations we obtained from the City of Kirkwood.
Below are the tickets issued against Charles W. Thornton (the files are in pdf format)
2001 Tickets (Feb-May)
2001 Tickets (June)
2001 Tickets (July-Nov)
June 23, 2001 Assault Report filed by Ken Yost